From Cardio To Strength- How to Make the Shift

I remember the days in college and a few years out where I lived on the cardio machines. Like a lot of fitness professionals who have gotten into this industry, we all started with a true passion for exercise. Some were athletes, some got into later on and some were gym rats (that was me!) Yeah, sure I played field hockey and rowed recreation crew for a few years, played soccer and was pretty athletic, but for the most part? I was a gym rat since Senior year of High School. I would go with my mom to the grungy Golds Gym where you walked in and saw nothing but a sea of muscle Tanks and overly tanned bodies. Gallons of water would pebble the floor and focus was as intense as it gets. This was a hard body gym and it was my happy place. 

it was a space I knew well and felt confident walking anywhere in that space. There were always those gym-goers who stuck to one area and one piece of equipment because they had a fear of ‘not knowing what to do’ outside of their familiar space. This was not me. I loved walking around, trying new machines, spying on other people and what exercises they were doing. 

Now, with that said, I definetaly was in that category of ‘WTF else do I do here other than cardio?” That was my home (for the most part and for the first fews years of my gym rat obsession) I ran, I went on the elliptical, was on the big stairs and even the stationary bike. Like *a lot* of women, the cardio area was ‘safe’ so although I liked to walk around and get a lay of the land, I pretty much lived in the cardio section with the fear of not knowing HOW to execute.

 I also took some classes-nothing too intense, some basic strength and cardio classes. Those were fun. The instructor was super high energy, in a bit of a scary way yet very motivating and the music was great.  I began making friends with some other people in the class and it became part of my weekly routine. Between the classes and my own cardio, I became a cardio queen in its truest form. 50 minutes minimum over the course of many years-into my college days and even then when I was studying Exercise Science, I would even drag myself to the gym extremely hungover to get in at least 40 minutes of cardio. Now, there would be nothing wrong with someone wanting to do this, but I HAD to do it, even when I didn’t feel at all like I wanted to. It was a mental barrier I couldn’t get over. 

Was I thin? No

Was I fit? Sure, but looked pretty average. 

Was I toned? Not really. I wasn’t lifting any weights or maybe 1x a week

Was I happy? Sure, but I wanted my body to look better naked (you know what I mean)

Fast forward to post college where I got a job managing a gym. My office was a gym?! YOU GUYS–I could work out literally anytime I wanted. And thats just what I did-again mainly running at least 3 miles most days and then some ab stuff and then on the elliptical for 20 minutes. That’s what I did about 5-6 days a week. typing that out now, its literally exhausting to think about. 

I would get to work at 5am…open the gym, do the rounds and wait for the rush to go down, then hop on the treadmill around 630am and workout. Then again around 10am when it slowed down again. I was working out (cardio) but my body was nowhere what I wanted it to look like. I didn’t understand. I was killing myself and working so much harder than most, yet my body didn’t look like the body of someone working out for 10+ hours a week.

My diet was crap too. It was the diet of a cardio queen. I was ALWAYS hungry, so although I was eating *well* I was eating WAY too much in huge portions because well, cardio will do that to you! My resting heart rate was elevated, I was tired, fatigued, moody and always hungry. It was around this time that I was starting my blog and incessantly on these internet forums. 

I was hugely into the Oxygen Magazine forum and became *friends* with so many amazing women. they were my internet friends and we sat and talked about exercise, workouts, recipes. They were inspiring. Moreover-There were a few competitors and I KNEW that one day I wanted to compete. I started my blog at this time and I decided that there was no time like the present. I wanted a change and I wanted it now. I was ready. I enrolled in Cathy Savage Fitness and man, was my mind blown with the program I was about to receive. It was minimal cardio, less food, and 5 days a week of strength training. It was hard for me to believe that this would actually change my body and the fact that I would be doing *less* cardio frankly scared the crap out of me. 

I was so terrified that I would gain more weight by getting rid of my beloved sweat sessions but also had so much faith in this process. 

I am a type A person so I knew that I needed to set a goal for myself and have a coach tell me what to do in order to make this switch from cardio queen to strength training Junkie. 

When I first started this program, I will admit that I was pretty overwhelmed. I had a degree in Exercise Science, had been around meatheads for the latter 5 years and was addicted to all things fitness related including 3 magazine subscriptions read cover to cover every month. I wasn’t completely lost, but I was terrified that I would NEVER see results. 

Taking away cardio is hard, but trusting the process is so valuable. Sometimes in life, you must give up some control in order to make hugely significant changes.

Enter Strength Training:

If I even began to share how organized and serious I was about this whole thing, I would get so many LOL’s but I am certainly not hiding anything from you guys! I had a binder and every month our workouts would change and I was print out the workout and put it in a laminated protector case in my binder, separated by year and month. There were also other ‘supplemental’ workouts that I divided by a section labeled with different body parts. If I was going all in, I was doing this 110%. I had that sheet with me for every workout and I took it slow, meaning I started with some lower weights until I got stronger. The goal is not to win the race, but rather, pace yourself so you are able to finish it. I knew I wasn’t going to be curling 50lbs and deadlifting my bodyweight just yet. Did I want that? YES. But I knew I had a ways to go. That feeling of strength was so euphoric. I felt bad ass in the most awesome way possible. I was grunting and sweating and throwing weights around and it was pure bliss. 

Every month when we got new workouts, I saw this as a new goal, a new challenge to attack. How heavy could I lift this month? What new exercise will I learn and how will my body react? It was a game, a challenge and one that I was sharing with the other amazing women that I met through Cathy Savage Fitness. We would chat workouts and strength and PRs; language I was so not used to if you asked me 2 years ago. My interest in strength training and fitness skyrocketed within a few months. 

Mental Shift

My body was changing significantly as well. My diet was a bit different meaning smaller meals, more frequently, but I was still eating A LOT. I was just no longer attached to the elliptical or treadmill like I used to be. I think that motivation of seeing your physique change and putting on clothes that were not falling off made me feel confident in a whole new way. It wasn’t even about the weight loss, it was the fact that I was changing and I was in control of it now. I made the decision and I trusted the process.  That shift from *needing to be* on a piece of cardio equipment everyday no longer made a presence in my head. Sure, I missed those runs and the zoning out  that cardio can provide, but the focus, intensity and pure rawness of strength training was far superior and I LOVED it. 

Not only was I getting physically stronger, but I was mentally skyrocketing. My personal life increased 10 fold. I got myself out of a horrible relationship that lasted longer than it should’ve because prior, I felt powerless. Now with this newfound mental strength? I had the ability to know what I deserved and how to get it. I met amazing friends, moved out of my parents house and into my own apartment and was overall so positive and happy. 

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How To Shift Toward Strength

1) Ease into it.

No one said that one day you will just stop doing your cardio all together. This is not what I am trying to convey at all with this post. What I am trying to emphasize is the importance of strength training, especially for women who are looking to see a change in their physique and have been working way too hard for too long without the introduction of iron. If you are currently doing 5x a week of cardio for 45-60 minutes, I would suggest replacing one day a week with a 30-40 minute strength training circuit. If you are unfamiliar with weight training, I would HIGHLY recommend meeting with a trainer, at least 1 time so you can get a lay of the land. You could also seek out some classes that incorporate weight training. You can also ALWAYS reach out to me 1fitfoodie(@)gmail.com and we can set up a personalized program.  Following some simple yet effective movements such as the ones written below in place of your 45 min jog will do wonders for your body and mind. Go through this circuit 3-5x with 2 min rest between each giant circuit. 

  • 1a- Goblet squat 3×12
  • 1b- Seated cable row 3×12
  • 1c- Alternating reverse lunges 3×12
  • 1d- Push ups (can be elevated)  3×12
  • 1e- Forearm plank 3x30s

2) Find Support

Sometimes the best way to get into something new that you have wanted to try is to find like minded individuals. I always loved the gym, I loved being active and I LOVED studying Exercise Science in college. I was so happy that I chose to surround myself with people who all had this crazy passion for fitness and health as I did. When I began competing I had no IDEA that there was a whole universe of women (and men) who were just as crazy as me 😉 I felt at home whenever I was chatting with a friend about our workouts or nutrition or…life! These days, working as a personal trainer and health coach I still love that my co-workers and some of my best friends and i will always have that common interest. Start chatting with other people in your gym or attend classes such as yoga, where people tend to be super friendly and welcoming. (yoga-BTW is hugely strength based) I find that so many fitness minded individuals are so friendly, but it just takes that first step to say “Hi” You may just find your next gym buddy or someone who will turn you onto something you have never tried!

3) Don’t be Afraid To Bring Print Outs With You

Do you ever look at people in the gym who have a journal or sheets of paper and think they’re crazy? Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t but regardless, they are dedicated to following some sort of routine. I encourage you to bring in whatever workout program you are following to the gym. No, not on your phone, but an actual sheet of paper. Take it out, look at it and even make notes if you need to. Don’t be afraid or intimated or think people are judging you. No one is judging you, they are too busy looking at themselves! (it is a gym after all-people are there for themselves) You will be more likely to follow the program and also if you need pictures, they are there on the paper for you to look at. Do what you have to do! 

4) Find An Easy to Follow Program

If you go on the internet you will find literally thousands of ways for you to start incorporating strength training; even in fitness magazines there are some great ideas and pictures that you can check out. I have posted quite a bit about strength training and HIGHLY recommend you check out this recent post about \

  • STRENGTH TRAINING FOR FAT LOSS. I share some easy to follow movements and includes a sample workout. 
  • Some NEW CHOICES FOR CARDIO (that include conditioning) and include workouts!
  • Girlsgonestrong.com is another amazing resource
  • Nia Shanks has a fabulous blog+website that includes many beginners tools for strength training
  • NERD FITNESS has lots of amazing articles and tools!
  • Jill Coleman If you don’t know JILLFIT You NEED to. Go check her out asap. 
  • Tony Gentilcore – amazing strength coach and love his no BS approach to training 
  • Syatt Fitness Jordan has great Instagram stories + posts that are easy to follow and informative, not to mention his website is packed with articles!
  • Mike Vacanti Mike’s program “On the Regimen” has some great, informative articles and also puts up some great youtube videos regarding strength, mindset, exercise and fat loss
  • Meghan Callaway Her blog is amazing and she is one bad a*s chick!!! She shares videos of her workouts, tips, motivation and is strong AF

5)  Don’t Be Afraid to Lift Some Weight

I mean really lift, something besides 3lbs. If 3lbs is truly HEAVY for you, then thats your starting point but most women can go up safely 5lbs in weight from what they think they can lift. That feeling of strength will permeate throughout your body and you will soon be chasing that feeling of being strong. If getting bulky is a fear, I can tel you that for this to happen you need to be eating a SURPLUS of calories and lifting VERY heavy weight about 4-5x a week with a strict schedule. It is nearly impossible to ‘bulk’ up from weight training a couple or a few times a week lifting in a rep range of 12-15 reps. Know that your body is working hard even when you leave the gym because of that EPOC (exercise post oxygen consumption) The more muscle your body has, the more efficient it is at burning fat. More muscle  enhances metabolic function throughout the day so while you are at rest, your metabolism will still continue to work. More strength training=more muscle=more fat burn! 

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These days? You know all know that Yes, I still do some cardio. I post and keep things as real as I can for my followers and on social media. I take a spin class here and there and even went for a 3.5 mile run on 4th of July. Cardio is super important to keep conditioning levels high as they carry over greatly in strength training. I also take yoga 1-2x a week and perform less intense cardio (IE walking my dog outside or walking around the city for 30 minutes a few times a week) all of these modes of movement have a place in my life. There is way more balance for me these days and thats how I like it. I will always choose strength over cardio for many of the reasons I shared on todays post, but I will always and forever have a balanced outlook on everything. Moderation for the win! 

 

 

 

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